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Review: Cascade FatHead II Ribbon Microphones February 1, 2009

Posted by ConnorSmith in : Microphone Techniques, Reviews, Studio Setup , trackback

The FatHead II is a figure-eight ribbon microphone from Cascade Microphones

Cascade Microphones’ FatHead II is sonically the same as the original FatHead.  However, the FatHead II has slightly different stylings, a larger body, and comes with a shockmount.  Specifically in this review I will be discussing the FatHead II Stereo Pair (street price: around $400).  A single FatHead II retails for around $219.  The FatHead II is a figure-eight ribbon mic, and because of its symmetrical design (unlike earlier FatHeads), it has an identical frequency response on each side.  The FatHead II also comes in three different color options.

The packaging for the mics is top notch.  I received mine (packed securely inside a cardboard box) in a sturdy aluminum flight case.  In addition to the two microphones, the flight case holds both shockmounts (which are very robust), the Blumlein adapter and bar, and two polishing clothes.  All of these accessories are included for free, which is a classy way to go.  Before plugging the mics in, it was very good to know that Cascade is concerned with giving its customers quality accessories and cases without extra cost.

The first thing I did with the mics was to attach them to the Blumlein bar and fly them over top of a rock drumset.  (This was in a room with a tall, vaulted (and treated) ceiling).  Once I had the mics setup and plugged in, someone in the control room turned on phantom power (::yikes::).  Luckily the FatHeads are protected from 48v and were not damaged by this engineering no-no. (not that I would recommend trying this for yourself…).

The smooth transient response was very appealing, but the mics were a little darker in the highs than I would have liked on that source.  This was a very fast-paced drum session, so I decided to take the FatHeads down and replaced them with AKG 414s.  Instead, I just took one FatHead, put it in front of the kit about 8′ back, and positioned it so that the diaphragm was pointed straight up and down (in an attempt to have a room mic with little direct sound which I could crush with a compressor).  The mic responded phenomenally in this application.  While it didn’t end up being my first choice for overheads, I now go to the FatHead first for room mics (especially crushed, talkback-style room mics).  On a different drum session (say maybe a jazz or lighter rock session), I think the FatHeads will be a perfect choice.

A quick side note – one thing I realized as the day progressed (I always end up wishing I had more time to spend on drum mic’ing) was that the FatHeads sometimes need a little EQ on the way in.  I was tracking with a Vintech 473, and quickly realized that a little 3k shelf really opened up the top end of the FatHeads.  They can take a fairly substantial boost before beginning to sound harsh.

After drums, I tracked some loud electric guitars with the fatheads.  By the end of the day, the mic had been in front of a small (1×12) Fender, a big (4×12) Marshall, and a few other medium sized amps.  Verdict: This is an excellent guitar amp mic.  It can take an SPL beating (up to 165 dB SPL!!!) and really mellows out the top end of the amps.  I usually started with a FatHead and a 57 on the cab, in order to maintain a point of reference.  Most of the guitar tracks needed a little high-shelf EQ on the way in (often 3k, once in awhile, the 12k setting).  However, the mics took the EQ very well and really sounded fantastic.

The figure-8 pattern was also a versatile tool (as one would expect with most any ribbon mic).  By aiming the mic at different angles, a balance of more/less room tone could be established without changing the position of the mic.  Another convenient thing about this mic is its symmetry.  Once, I was using two mics on a guitar cab, and was in the recording room (with headphones on to listen) moving mics.  I heard that the 2 mics were comb filtering pretty badly, and rather than stopping, running into the other room, and hitting the polarity switch, I just turned one of them around.

I also quickly had a chance to track an acoustic guitar with a pair of these.  Once again, I had to EQ (sucking some out at 220Hz and boosting the hi-shelf), but the sound was very natural.  The mics were definitely a nice alternative to the faster, more present response of a typical small-diaphragm condenser on acoustic guitar.  While this sound wouldn’t be perfect in every application, it was favorable and natural sounding representation of the instrument for this particular track.

I did not have the opportunity (yet) to try the FatHead II out on brass.  However, Cascade has a page full of samples of various brass and other instruments.

I would highly recommend that every project or home studio owner pick up a pair of these.  They are great utility microphones, especially for loud sources.  I also found them to be great for “colored” microphone applications (such as the drum room mics).  You will want to pair them with a high quality preamp (the mic requires a fair amount of clean gain) with EQ (for occasional, necessary brightening).  The FatHead IIs also transport well (for the traveling/freelance worker).  The case is very sturdy, and the blumlein bar fits almost all other mics (it doesn’t work well on fairly tall mics, such as the Neumann U87).  The FatHead II has a sound far above its price point and is a great way for anyone to get into ribbon microphones.


1. Bob - April 12, 2012

Awesome review!
I’m just starting with a matched pair of them.

Your review is helpful to me.
Thanks for taking the time to write it.

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